My final roundtable interview of SXSW was with Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Since it was my first true Anderson film experience (which I loved), I had plenty of questions for him. But since I had to compete with a few other press folks with little time to spare, I only got one in. But I’m happy with the result either way as my time spent with Anderson couldn’t have gone any better.
In our discussion Anderson divulged his a bit about his writing process, how he picks and chooses character quirks, the work of Stefan Zwieg, and cats.
I was interested in how you create a film, whether you start with the visuals or start with the script, or do you just come up with an idea and run with it?
Wes Anderson (WA): With different movies, I have a different order of events. But with [Budapest], I started with this one character, played by Ralph, and think what that character is like, with a little bit of story for that character, and then eventually having an idea of the setting. That is was gonna be this sort of European, war background kind of movie, then making the script. Than all the visual stuff and figure out how to go about making the movie, that all came after the script was finished.
How did you come to Ralph Fiennes? He’s not an actor who is considered someone who has a large body of comedy in his resume. What did you see in him that you felt would be right for the role of M. Gustave?
WA: In Bruges is a film I thought of, because he’s so funny in it. I then I had seen him in this play God of Carnage that he was very funny in, and especially this movie that Bob Balaban directed called Bernard and Doris. It was a very quiet role he plays. But then also I got to know him personally over the years, quite a bit. And he even knows, the person that this character is inspired by, he knows my friend. So he even had a sense of what the real guy is like, so it was that combination. As much from just being around him a little bit personally as anything else.
Where do you get the ideas for character details, such a M. Gustave’s collection of perfumes, and how do you make sure they don’t retract from the story?
WA: Usually most of the things come from, the thing with the perfume for instance, that’s this real person who wears this Versace perfume everyday and he sprays it on. You can’t miss it. And he will talk about that freely. Often it’s from something in real life. But having said that, I thought the mustache was something he thought up, Tony Revolori, but the other day he denied that when we were doing an interview the other day. Like he didn’t want credit for that idea. Some of it is just imagination, and when it’s just imagination, it’s probably stolen from something that we forgot what it is. But as often it’s about somebody in real life. Either someone I’d read about, or the person I’m writing with has read about, or someone we know, or ourselves.
Speaking to the real life influences, there’s an interesting quote in the film that’s repeated twice about the last speck of humanity within brutality. Can you explain where this idea came from?
WA: That’s a way of expressing something that’s in Stefan Zweig’s work. He writes about in his memoir Vienna, where he was growing up in before 1914 and the Europe of that time. Their newspaper had whatever news there was, but it also had poetry and philosophical texts. It was a different kind of writing. Their rock stars were playwrights, and there was new music happening all the time. He describes a thing which, at this time nationalism begins, he sees his country shifting to a more nationalistic world view. At the same time where sport became a big thing. Suddenly the thing that was cool to be into shifted into this physical thing and it’s all leading to a war like mentality. His story is this person who’s so invested in this one culture that then is slowly and then quickly destroyed. He ended up fleeing Europe[…], but still didn’t survive the war because he ended up committing suicide. So that line you’re talking about it some kind of condensed version of what I just described.[laughs]
In Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tennenbaums you kill a dog, and in this one you kill a cat. Was that a conscious decision?
WA: Human actors often want to have a death scene to play. So in a way it’s to just share this opportunity with other animals. I’m just trying to write a good part for a cat.[laughs]
Can you talk about the process of turning the hotel into a central character in the film, and where you start from in terms of design?
WA: First we tried to find a hotel where we could do this, the perfect place. Is it in Switzerland, is it in Hungary, where is this place? We traveled all over Central Europe, and we went to a million hotels, we went to castles, went to hospitals, abandoned things, operating things, and we gathered many ideas, but we couldn’t find a place. The world is just not like that […] Our big location scout turned into a big research scout. We figured out that we’d need to create our hotel. We found this department store in the town of Görlitz that gave us this opportunity to make something is this real location, and then we designed miniatures and other things so we could use all the things we really liked and make exactly the hotel we wanted in a more impressionistic way of using these old movie techniques. In a way of us getting exactly what we wanted while not having it really exist.